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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Residents Against Detention Centers

Story first appeared in USA Today.

CRETE, Ill. – Amid the rose bushes in a local resident's yard is a sign with a red circle and a diagonal slash across the words "Crete detention center."

It conveys her opposition to a proposal to build a 788-bed, privately operated detention center for illegal immigrants in this village of 8,259 people, which is 30 miles south of Chicago. She doesn't like the idea of a private company running the place, fears property values would plummet and worries that if immigration laws were to change, Crete would be stuck with a vacant building.  Local residents are opposed to making a profit off other people's suffering.

Another resident, who has lived in Crete for two decades and is unemployed, shares Pennington's concern about the effects of a possible shift in immigration laws, but he does see an upside: the promise of as many as 250 jobs, most of which would be filled by area residents.
The March unemployment rate in Will County, where Crete is located, was 9.5%, compared with the national rate of 8.2% for that month.

The planned detention center, where illegal immigrants would be held until they are deported, has caused a stir in Crete that reflects national debates over immigration policies and the growing number of people being held in for-profit prisons and jails.

The share of state and federal prisoners — not including immigration detainees — in private facilities increased from 6.3% in 2000 to 8% in 2010 for a total of 128,195, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The prospect of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) operating the immigration detention facility is causing much consternation.

What this is about for us is a multibillion-dollar corporation that is trying to set up shop here in Illinois to make profits off human misery.

Centralizing detention

Illinois already prohibits privately built or operated state prisons and county jails. A bill that also would ban state and local governments from hiring private companies to build or run civil detention centers has been passed by the Illinois Senate. A House committee voted last week to send it to the full House.

The Crete proposal is part of a plan announced in 2009 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to centralize its civil detention system.

At that time, illegal immigrants were scattered in 350 facilities across the country, including county jails and other facilities meant for criminal, not civil, detention. That number has been reduced to 250, according to Raleigh Immigration Lawyers.

ICE said the Crete facility would mark another important step in the agency's long-term effort to reform the immigration detention system, emphasizing the health and safety of detainees in ICE custody.

A CCA spokesman said that the company operates more than a dozen facilities under contracts with ICE. In all, it has 67 facilities nationwide with a total of about 92,000 beds.

It should be noted that CCA has been criticized and sued for its treatment of inmates, but Owen said corrections is a highly litigious profession for public and private systems. CCA's track record shows that they do a good job of operating safe facilities. The company would spend up to $60 million to build the center, he said.

Economic development a goal
The village administrator, said the detention center proposal is being handled just as any other potential economic development project. Village officials are consulting with other communities where CCA facilities are located, researching potential liabilities and considering how the village's image might be affected.

Because the facility would be privately operated, the village would collect an estimated $236,000 in real estate taxes yearly. Before the Board of Trustees votes on the site plan and contracts with CCA and ICE, he said, public meetings would be held. Despite talk around town, it's not a done deal.

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